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DeSantis contractor passed out migrant relocation flyers in Orlando, records show

It is not clear whether anyone has taken the contractor up on its offer.
 
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign event on May 31, 2023, in Salix, Iowa.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign event on May 31, 2023, in Salix, Iowa. [ CHARLIE NEIBERGALL | AP ]
Published Jan. 30

The firm that left flyers promoting free migrant relocation trips at a Latino church in east Orlando — sparking controversy and questions among local advocates — is a state contractor for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ highly publicized relocation initiative, records show.

Leaflets in English, Spanish and Creole were placed on the doorstep of the church about a week ago from an organization calling itself My Bright Horizons. State records show My Bright Horizons is actually a fictitious name for Access Restoration Services, a Texas-based company that is one of three firms receiving a lucrative contract under the program authorizing the state to transport migrants to other states.

Across Central Florida, entities ranging from churches, law enforcement and a nonprofit have received queries from the company seeking help in finding migrants to transport. Agencies reached by the Orlando Sentinel Monday said they’ve ignored the inquiries.

The messages, and their recipients, reveal the strategy being pursued by at least one of the state relocation contractors to recruit migrants for transport in order to get paid under the terms of its deal with the state. Records show Access Restoration Services, or ARS, has been allocated at least $20 million.

“As part of this program, we are coordinating with local Sheriffs’ Offices, Community Outreach programs and Homeless shelters to assist with the identification of eligible migrants that may be interested in voluntarily relocating outside of Florida,” according to an email sent to one local church by My Bright Horizons.

That message was titled “Governor’s Migrant Transportation Program” and was signed by the “Customer Care Team” at My Bright Horizons.

A different email stated the company was “an authorized vendor tasked with assisting the relocation of inspected unauthorized aliens” and that it was “entirely voluntary, and individuals will be treated with compassion and dignity.”

“All volunteers will be provided shelter, food, hygiene kits, medical examinations, and basic care prior to, and during transport,” it reads.

It is not clear whether anyone has taken My Bright Horizon up on its offer.

Access Restoration Services has been paid more than $15 million so far this fiscal year by the DeSantis administration, state records show. One payment for $747,398 is labeled as “unauthorized alien transport program,” and another $807,000 payment is titled “illegal migration.” A $13.8 million transaction is listed as “Public Assistance – state operations.”

The company also has been involved in the DeSantis administration’s efforts to fly Americans home from Israel in October following an invasion by Hamas, as well as in hurricane recovery efforts. It was also paid $830,400 last year for flights taking migrants to California.

ARS directed questions on its operations in Florida to the state’s Division of Emergency Management, which didn’t respond to an emailed inquiry.

The Rev. Ken Green, a senior pastor at Prince of Peace, said his church had received at least four different emails from My Bright Horizons dating back to November, and said he was disgusted when he realized what they were for.

“Since very few states do this, move migrants to other states as part of a program, I think of it as politicized,” Green said Monday. “It’s just inappropriate for anyone to try to politicize churches — it’s not what we’re for.”

Florida’s migrant flights first made waves in 2022 when DeSantis sent about 50 migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, rather than moving them from Florida. Then last year, the governor signed a bill creating a $10 million program for migrant relocations, which allowed Florida to move migrants from anywhere in the country.

Contracts with three vendors of the program were obtained by American Oversight, a nonprofit watchdog, which show expectations are for the contractors to “Develop and provide … a detailed plan identifying and relocating a group of Inspected Unauthorized Aliens.”

Prince of Peace, at the corner of Curry Ford Road and Semoran Boulevard in Orlando, draws about 250 people every Sunday, as well as about 60 people for its Spanish-language worship, Green said. The church also offers English and citizenship classes, he said.

The church is about two miles away from Iglesia Episcopal Jesús de Nazaret, the Azalea Park church that received them a week prior. There, hard copies of the flyers in English, Spanish and Creole were left at the doorstep, but the Rev. José Rodriguez told reporters Friday he removed them from public view before Sunday morning service began.

He and U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Orlando, said at the time they were aware of at least one other church that had received them.

The Orange and Seminole County Sheriff’s offices each said they received similar messages as the churches, but aren’t working with My Bright Horizon. A homeless nonprofit also received several inquiries from the group.

Green said the flyers were sent to the church’s general email inbox and weren’t distributed.

“Our main approach is people are in Orlando, we want them to feel like they’ve found a home,” Green said. “We just deal with people as people, and people need to build to build community.”

Jeffrey Schweers of the Sentinel staff contributed.